In my darkest times, I read parts of Leaves of Grass to help ground me. While there are still some who debate Whitman’s sexual orientation, it seems likely that he did have an affair with Peter Doyle. Edward Carpenter recounted his intimate interlude with Whitman to his friend Gavin Arthur, who then recorded the affair in his journal. I suspect Whitman today would have worn the moniker of Queer quite proudly.
Whitman’s poetry fills me with optimism about humanity; his words often pull me out of my misanthropic woes. When I read:
I am of old and young, of the foolish as much as the wise,
Regardless of others, ever regardful of others,
Maternal as well as paternal, a child as well as a man,
Stuff’d with the stuff that is coarse and stuff’d with the stuff that is fine,
One of the Nation of many nations, the smallest the same and the largest the same,
I feel enveloped in a part of humanity that is flawed, but connected. The connectedness is the rich good stuff–the stuff that gives me hope and optimism.
I am the poet of the Body and I am the poet of the Soul,
The pleasures of heaven are with me and the pains of hell are with me,
The first I graft and increase upon myself, the latter I translate into a new tongue.
I am the poet of the woman the same as the man,
And I say it is as great to be a woman as to be a man,
And I say there is nothing greater than the mother of men.
For me, this is my religion. Whitman’s words here seem sacred and his sharing of how connected we are, for me, seems to show how natural and fluid sexual orientation is, and the softness of the lines of gender identity–how natural. In some respects, Whitman is responsible for this blog. If you have not read two of my favorites, Leaves of Grass or Crossing Brooklyn Ferry, I strongly encourage you to read these works.